Miami HEAT at Chicago Bulls Game Preview

Photo Credit: Ned Dishman

The Miami HEAT face the Chicago Bulls Sunday afternoon at United Center. The HEAT defeated the Bulls 97-91 in their last meeting on Nov. 1. Tip-off is set for 3:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 3:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: How was Miami able to have such an explosive offensive game against the Wolves?

Couper Moorhead: This was as complete a victory as Miami has had all season. Their defense was just as active as it was against Boston and with Jeff Teague missing the game, the Wolves never appeared to find any sort of consistent offensive organization. The HEAT were even able to put Justise Winslow, and later James Johnson, on Karl-Anthony Towns for most of the evening and his aggressive ball denial had Minnesota struggling to find ways to even get their best offensive player a touch.

Offensively, however, this was a tour de force. There are different ways of logging shot location, but according to player tracking data Miami’s 21 attempts on corner threes were the most any team has taken in a single game over the past two seasons. Minnesota isn’t an elite defensive team and that’s important to note, but that’s also part of the season-long process. The HEAT were leading the league in corner threes before they played the Wolves, so it stands to reason that against a weaker defense they would be able to get to their strengths even more. Now, you still have to make the shots you get and the HEAT made 19-of-39 from deep including 11-of-17 between Wayne Ellington and Goran Dragić, but it’s the consistency in shot quality that allows teams to occasionally have such extreme nights.

Joe Beguiristain: Simply put, the HEAT got to their identity and stuck to what works. Miami’s attackers routinely got into the paint, collapsed the defense and kicked it out to open shooters on the perimeter. As such, the HEAT dished out a season-high 29 assists on 38 made field goals and shot 19-of-39 (48.7 percent) from downtown. Perhaps the most encouraging part of Miami’s performance was that the team was able to sustain its high level of play throughout the whole game. In fact, once the HEAT took a 4-2 lead with 10:52 remaining in the first quarter, they never looked back. Naturally, Wayne Ellington led the way with 21 points on 6-of-9 from deep and helped extend Miami’s lead to 20 in the fourth quarter.

When you pair this win along with Wednesday night’s performance against the Celtics, it’s clear that the two grueling practices after the HEAT’s loss to the Pacers struck a chord with the team. As long as Miami stays committed to the work, things will work themselves out like they have been recently.

2: What did we learn from the previous matchup with Chicago?

Couper: That even though he’s a rookie, Lauri Markkanen should not be underestimated. Chicago’s offense has been among the lowest in the league all season but for a time the Jerian Grant-Markkanen pick-and-roll combo was the very best combination in the league (they’re still in the Top 15). Against Miami, the Bulls were able to quickly get to their actions, draw a switch and then take advantage of Markkanen’s size advantage in the post in part by utilizing Robin Lopez’ skills at the high post. Markkanen has a long way to go, of course, but the Bulls essentially use him as a young Dirk Nowitzki, trying to find him advantageous situations on the court, either in the post or popping off a screen, where he can simply shoot over the top of other players. Lopez usually tends to have good games against the HEAT no matter what team he is playing for, but Markkanen is the player who can put Chicago’s offense over the top on any given night.

Joe: We learned that while the Bulls have struggled mightily this year, they have a few guys who can make some noise on the offensive end. Like Coup stated above, one of those players is rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old had a solid outing in that last matchup against the HEAT and scored 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting. As a whole, the talented 7-footer showed his versatility with pick-and-pop jumpers, aggressive attacks and finishes inside.

With Justise Winslow now starting at power forward, we’ll likely see him guard Markkanen more than he did on Nov. 1. Remember, the former Duke Blue Devil had a fantastic defensive performance against Karl-Anthony Towns on Friday. We’ll see how he follows that up.

3: Has there been any secret to Miami’s bench units being more productive lately?

Couper: They’re defending again. While the fifth man varies between Dion Waiters, Goran Dragić and Josh Richardson, the four-man group of Wayne Ellington, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk now has a defensive rating of 99.3 points allowed per 100 possessions in 90 minutes – a mark that would be Top 10 in the league among all teams. Between the shooting of Ellington and Olynyk, plus the Johnson-Johnson handoff combination, this unit is clearly capable of having some explosive offensive nights but the bench groups carried a bulk of Miami’s defensive value in the second half last season so it’s very positive to see them able to recapture that effectiveness with slightly difference personnel.

Joe: This kind of goes back to my first answer, but Miami’s bench has gotten back to its roots. James Johnson is handling the ball as usual and dazzling with nifty touch passes (he led the team with eight assists on Friday night), Tyler Johnson is keeping the opposition guessing with catch-and-shoot jumpers and attacks to the rim and Wayne Ellington is getting to his spots on the perimeter. When you add Kelly Olynyk to the mix, another sharp passer who gives his teammates open shots with screen handoffs like JJ, you start to see how things have turned around for the second unit.

As a whole, Miami’s bench holding its own on both ends of the floor has gone a long way in the team winning three of its last four games. If that trend continues, the HEAT should be able to find success more often than not.  

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Highlights:

Nov. 1 – Bulls at HEAT

Jan. 27 – HEAT at Bulls

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won three of four and are 9-9 on the season.
  • The Bulls have dropped four straight and enter the contest at 3-14.
  • Three Miami players are shooting over 40 percent from three (minimum of two attempts per game).
  • Lauri Markkanen leads Chicago in points (14.6) and rebounds (8.2) per contest.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 101.4 (25)
  • HEAT Defense: 103.6 (12)
  • Bulls Offense: 94.0 (30)
  • Bulls Defense: 108.9 (29)

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